Tony Medawar on Anthony Berkeley Cox


Tony Medawar talks about Anthony Berkeley a.k.a. Frances Iles (amongst several other pseudonyms) at the 2016 Bodies From The Library Conference.

Tony’s new collection of lost, misplaced or otherwise obscure short stories by the great authors of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, his third in the cunningly titled Bodies From The Library series, is published by HarperCollins on July 9th.

To mark the publication we, along with HarperCollins, are running a competition – details of which can be found on our website.

To listen to Tony’s talk, illustrated with the slides from the day, go to:

Bodies From The Library 3 – Competition


Regular attendees at Bodies From The Library conferences will know that in recent years we have been proud to offer delegates the opportunity to buy advance copies of Bodies From The Library collections of rare and little known short stories by leading writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Edited by Tony Medawar and published by HarperCollins, the third volume of the series was to have been previewed at this year’s conference, which, sadly, will no longer be possible due to the ongoing coronavirus situation.

However, to mark the publication of the third volume on 9 July, Bodies From The Library is running a competition, set by Tony himself, based on the stories in the new volume.

All you need to do to enter the competition is to decide which of the authors whose stories feature in the volume (listed below) began one of their tales with the sentence:

“Adrian Belford, emerging from the offices of Messrs Golding & Moss, Financiers, hesitated uncertainly at the corner of Conduit Street and Bond Street.”

Authors included in Bodies From The Library 3 are:

Anthony Berkeley
Josephine Bell
Nicholas Blake
Lynn Brock
Christopher Bush
John Dickson Carr
Peter Cheyney
Agatha Christie
William A. R. Collins
Joseph Commings
Cyril Hare
David Hume
Ngaio Marsh
Stuart Palmer
John Rhode
Christopher St John Sprigg
Dorothy L. Sayers
Ethel Lina White

To enter the competition you should send an email to with your selected author’s name as the email Subject/Headline/Title and giving your name for us to contact you should you win.

There will be two winners of the competition. Each will win a ticket to next year’s Bodies From The Library Conference.

The competition closes at midnight on 4 July.

Only one entry per person will be accepted.

All correct entries will be entered into a draw to select the winner.

Full Competition Rules are as follows:

Answers should be submitted by email to

Maximum one entry per person.

Entries must include the answer in the subject/headline/title and your name.

The competition will close at midnight on 4 July 2020

All correct entries received by the deadline will be entered into a draw. The first two names drawn will be the winners.

In the event that there is only one correct entry then that person will win one prize ticket. All other entries will then be entered into a draw to select the second winner.

In the event that there are no correct entries then all entries will be entered into the draw and the first two names drawn will be the winners.

The draw will take place after the competition closing date and will be conducted by an independent representative from HarperCollins Publishers.

The prizes are donated by HarperCollins Publishers and Bodies From The Library.

The prizes are a ticket for each winner to the Bodies From The Library 2021 conference to be held at the British Library. In the event that the conference does not take place the “Early Bird” ticket value will be awarded instead.

The winners will be notified by email. The names of the two winners will be published on the Bodies From The Library website.

No employee of HarperCollins or Bodies From The Library, nor any employee’s family member, may enter the competition.

The terms and conditions for the competition will be published on The Bodies From The Library website.

By entering the competition you confirm acceptance of these rules and for your name to be published if you should be the winner.

Another delve into the archives

We have unearthed another talk from our archives to share. This time it is Stella Duffy’s 2016 discussion of Ngaio Marsh and theatricality in her novels. Stella is uniquely placed to comment on Marsh having immersed herself in the project to complete a novel which Marsh herself abandoned unfinished. The result was the critically acclaimed Money in the Morgue published in 2018 by the Collins Crime Club.

From the Archives

We are still feeling so disappointed that the fantastic programme we had put together for this year’s conference in July has had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis. We really feel for the speakers whose efforts in researching and preparing their talks must seem like they have all been wasted at the moment. Of course we are intending to come back next year and hopefully some, if not all, of those talks, so diligently prepared, will receive the airing they deserve then.

But in the meantime, we are all locked up in our homes, only emerging for essential journeys. With the cut backs in public transport, who knows if the 4:50 from Paddington will run today? Is there an Orient Express even now crossing borders in the Balkans or is that too a victim of the pandemic?

One thing that is consoling us, and we know many others, is the fabulous range of archive performances being screened by some of the great companies of the world and all for free. Here in the UK we are spoiled for choice with The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Globe Theatre, The National Theatre, the BBC and many others offering us access to the finest culture in the comfort (confines?) of our own living rooms. I must confess I haven’t tracked down any of Agatha’s plays in amongst those that can now be streamed – but if anyone else can point me in the direction of an example then please let me know.

And in the same spirit, we have been going back through the archive recordings made of previous Bodies From The Library conferences to pick out some gems to share with you.

Here, from our very first conference in 2015, is a wonderful illustrated talk by Tony Medawar on Locked Room Mysteries in which the audio recording of Tony’s lecture is paired with the slides he used on the day. We do hope you enjoy it.

Take care and stay safe!

The Bodies From The Library team

Tony Medawar – Howdunnit? Locked Room Mysteries and Other Impossible Crimes


Bodies From The Library 2020 – cancelled

Due to the current coronavirus situation, after discussions with the British Library, we have decided that we must cancel the 2020 Bodies From The Library conference scheduled for 4th July.

Full refunds will be given to everybody who has booked to attend. We are contacting everybody who purchased tickets and arranging the refunds.

We have a provisional date already agreed with the British Library in June 2021 for next year’s conference and we will post details in due course.

Thank you to everyone who booked for this year’s event, we’re just as disappointed as you that it can’t go ahead, and we look forward to seeing you all next time in 2021!

Who killed Roger Ackroyd?


French academic and literary critic Pierre Bayard thinks Agatha got it wrong. Or Hercule did, which comes to the same thing. And in his playful 1998 book he sets out to demonstrate why and how. He goes on to propose an alternative solution which, with intellectual hubris, he entitles The Truth. Along the way he gives away the solutions to not just The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but also Endless Night and Curtain. My purpose is to playfully do unto Bayard as he has done unto Christie but, with the crucial additional self-imposed handicap, to do this without giving away either Christie’s solution or Bayard’s.

It is perhaps as well to begin by acknowledging that many Golden Age plots could be capable of different solutions depending on which facts the author selected as salient for the deduction of the murderer. Anthony Berkeley went so far as to propose six different solutions to his 1929 novel The Poisoned Chocolates Case, each put forward by a different detective in a round table discussion of the known facts. The correct solution, apparently arbitrarily determined to be such by Berkeley, is, to add further complications, not the one that was used in his separate short story The Avenging Chance (though that solution is one of those proposed in the novel’s debate) which uses the same basic facts.
Bayard may, therefore, be justified in his playful re-writing of Christie’s famous solution. My purpose is not to call this possibility into question, but to apply the same stress-testing of Bayard’s solution that he applied to Christie’s.

Being a French academic, Bayard’s approach is naturally intellectual and draws on a theoretical basis that is taken from Freudian psychoanalysis. Poirot, he insists, takes selected facts and constructs a theory which accounts for all of those facts. Poirot then imposes this theory onto the facts of the case without regard for the possibility that other theories might also fit those facts. This is, in psychoanalytical terms, the approach of a delusional character and is to be distinguished from that of a neurotic character. A deluded person fits facts to the narrative they have chosen to account for events – and incidentally ignores or discounts uncomfortable facts which might contradict the narrative they have chosen. A neurotic person simply suppresses uncomfortable facts so that their life is not disturbed by unpleasant narratives. A neurotic Poirot might simply pretend that there was no neighbour Roger Ackroyd who died in sudden and mysterious circumstances. A deluded Poirot might concoct a theory to account for the sudden, mysterious death of his neighbour and retro-actively fit the facts that emerge about that death to the pre-conceived “delusion”. Bayard concludes that Poirot is deluded.

Bayard goes on to explain that the reader is swept along by Poirot’s exposition of his delusional solution to the crime, pointing out that in this case, like so many others, Poirot expounds his theory to a gathered group of suspects in the classic denouement scene, moving swiftly from point to point without giving the reader adequate chance to test the strength of each link in the chain of evidence by which he reaches his conclusion. Crucially, Bayard says on more than one occasion in his arguments that this is effective as an approach – sweeping readers along to a rapid conclusion that is at best only sketchily outlined – which relies on the fact that detective fiction is intended to be read only once.

Here is where I begin my unpicking of Bayard’s case against Christie and Poirot. For, it is the intellectual conceit of literary criticism that genre fiction is produced as a disposable commodity unlike true, great literature which is written for posterity and which the author intends to be read and re-read with depths of meaning only revealed to the reader who repeatedly engages with the magnum opus. I contend that far from being written as disposable, one-time only reads, classics of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction were written by authors in the expectation that they would be re-read. The authors knew that their fans would not be content with a single read but would return to favourites and re-read them. Nor is this re-reading like that of children who constantly return to favourite books till they practically know them by heart. Second and subsequent readings are done, in the full knowledge of the solutions and so are quite different experiences from the first puzzle-solving attempt. Instead they are read in a more “knowing” way, identifying at each step where the author has planted clues to the solution and, noting, often with pleasure and admiration, how those fair-play clues have been disguised and attention to them has been diverted with clever mis-direction by the author.

The effect of these re-readings, which may well be slower and more careful than the initial dash through to get to the solution on the first time of reading, is to expose the solution to greater scrutiny and to reveal potential gaps in the logic.

My research, conducted through a survey of Golden Age aficionados found that 89% of readers will re-read classic Golden Age novels, such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. (Sample size 100 readers which makes it a robust conclusion).

I think, it is reasonable to conclude that Bayard over-states his case that Christie and a delusional Poirot might expect to get away with a less than water-tight solution through anxious readers skimming quickly to reach the climax of the novel if nine out of every ten of the readers who are most interested in the genre (and who might therefore be those who will conduct such a re-reading most closely) do in fact re-read the books.

Bayard goes on to contend that the motive which Poirot attributes to the murderer for the crime is too weak to sustain Poirot’s delusion of that party’s guilt. The motive Poirot proposes is that the murder is committed by a blackmailer to avoid exposure as a blackmailer. Bayard states that the accused person has only to respond with a flat denial of a posthumous accusation by a person who has committed suicide and, in effect, brazen it out without needing to resort to murder.

However, Bayard’s argument indicates a failure of understanding of the culture in which the murder takes place. An English village in the aftermath of the First World War is a very small and insular place. It has strong social and class hierarchies. All the suspects come from a middle-class milieu. Social reputation, professional standing, acceptance within the community are vitally important to all of those in the circle of which Roger Ackroyd was a key figure. To be accused of being a blackmailer and to have no proof (in the form of another person found to have been the blackmailer) that one was not such a social pariah, beyond bluster and outraged denial of the sort Bayard envisages, would present a high risk of social death. Gossip and the principle of no smoke without fire would see to it that the accused person’s standing in the village was destroyed forever. Any chance of social rehabilitation would be slim to non-existent and any professional reputation would be in ruins – with all the financial consequences that entails.

I therefore argue that this plank of Bayard’s case against Christie and Poirot is shaky at best.

This line of thought also calls into question Bayard’s second argument against Christie and Poirot’s suspect, that the person accused is too ineffectual to concoct and execute a daring, high-risk strategy within 24 hours of finding they are at risk of exposure as a blackmailer. To this line of thinking, I would argue that it is impossible to judge to what lengths a frightened individual might go to protect themselves in the face of the risk of exposure (the magnitude of which Bayard has already underestimated through his lack of cultural insight into what, to him, is a foreign society) to what is, in effect, social and/or professional and/or potentially financial ruin.

Bayard next turns his attention to the murder’s need to improvise at short notice what he, with heavy irony dubs, the world’s first “clock radio”. He also uses such humour to call into question other aspects of the murderer’s methodology and its requirements. This invitation to join him in poking fun at these aspects is a gambit to align his audience with his thinking and fall in line with his criticism of Christie and Poirot. However, this sarcasm quietly ignores that there was ample precedent for clockwork timing devices which would be well-known to any person of mechanical aptitude in that period since bombs with timers were a feature of the First World War which would have been a very recent memory for all of the protagonists in the novel.

So again, I find that Bayard’s case against Christie and Poirot is weak.

We should now turn to consideration of the alternative murderer whom Bayard proposes. In putting this suspect forward, Bayard must not only account for the confession of the murderer in Christie’s novel but also ensure that the suspect could have acted as he suggests consistent with the known facts revealed in the book.

Certainly, Bayard puts forward a convincing psychological case for his alternative suspect being the murderer. Yes, the person had a motive which would be as strong (or almost so) as Christie’s suspect.

Bayard also puts forward a convincing argument that the murderer’s confession in Christie’s solution is ambiguous. Here Bayard draws on literary theory to describe the confession as an example of “double-edged discourse”. The words used are capable of interpretation as an admission of guilt but are equally susceptible to a reading as the writings of a person who wishes to obfuscate for reasons of their own and not tell the whole truth. In short, Christie’s murderer never writes “Yes, I did it.” but only uses phrases which a reader might infer to mean as much without saying so in so many words.

This provides an ingenious way to account for an apparent confession which is not a confession in Bayard’s solution.

However, a crucial flaw I see in Bayard’s argument for the alternative murderer is that there is no evidence to point to them being the murderer. If Poirot is delusional and constructs an elaborate but deluded theory which fits selected facts to accuse one person of the murder (and the theory is not inconsistent with other facts which are, it turns out, irrelevant to the identification of the murderer), then the same applies with even greater force in respect of Bayard and his theory. He has only one item of evidence that his suspect could have done the crime (Major Blunt has seen an unidentified figure in the grounds – though Poirot identifies this person in his investigations and the person confirms that it was them during the “denouement”). Thus, the only evidence that the person Bayard accused could have been seen by Major Blunt is accounted for. This leaves only the possibility that the Major did not see the person who says they were at the relevant place at the time stated but saw a second person, Bayard’s proposed murderer, in very much the same place at the same time but that second person was not seen by the person who admitted to being there. This is not only implausible but also Bayard presents no evidence for why the person who admits they were there did not notice someone who must have been close by and who was sufficiently visible that the Major spotted them from a considerably greater distance.

Indeed, Bayard’s alternative murderer is somewhat peripheral to the storyline and is never seriously suspected or questioned by Poirot. Bayard notes this and questions it – Christie not usually treating a character who could have done it so lightly for no reason. However, this solution does clash with one of S. S. Van Dine’s Twenty Cardinal Rules for the Golden Age Detective Novel – rule 10 requires that the murderer “must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story”. Quite frankly, Bayard’s alternative murderer, though an ingenious solution, does rather fail this test.

Of course, Christie, like all the best writers of the Golden Age, felt perfectly free to disregard Van Dine’s rules when it suited her, but it would be pushing this laxity to an extreme to build this fresh twist onto a plot which already, and arguably more than any other before or since, shattered what must be regarded as one of the most sacrosanct of the Van Dine rules.

Indeed, in so doing, Christie made her reputation with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. She may have written better puzzles later, with stronger plots, with classic denouements revealing ingenious new twists and surprises for the reader, but in this novel, so early in her career, she sent a seismic shock through the Golden Age world, changing irrevocably what was possible in the genre.

I contend, therefore, that in his proposal that this solution is all a dreadful mistake on Christie’s, and Poirot’s part, Bayard is merely mis-directing himself, albeit in an amusing and erudite fashion.

Programme for 2020 Conference

We are delighted to unveil the stellar list of speakers and topics for our 2020 Conference. Appropriately for American Independence Day – the conference is taking place on 4th of July – we have a US theme to a number of our speakers’ subjects.

The programme in full is:

9:30 Registration begins
9.55 Welcome
10.00 Howdunit: How We Did It
Martin Edwards, Alison Joseph and Kate Ellis
10.30 Artist in Crime – The Life and Work of Ngaio Marsh
Tony Medawar
11.00 Partners in Crime: Hugh Wheeler & Richard Webb – Making of Patrick Quentin
Curtis Evans
11.30 COFFEE
12.00 The Great Gladys – How Great Is She?
Moira Redmond and Len Tyler
12.30 The Other Queen of Crime
John Curran
1:00 LUNCH
2.00 Radio Play
2.30 Identical Twins and Detection: Peter and Anthony Shaffer
Martin Edwards and Christine Poulson
3.00 ‘Straight Tripe and Savourless?’ – The Life and Work of Brian Flynn
Steve Barge and Kate Jackson
4.00 Three-a-Penny: Anthony Gilbert, Anne Meredith and Lucy Malleson
Jake Kerride
4.30 GAD Bless America
Jim Noy and Daniel Curtis
5.00 ‘Ask the Experts’
Moderator: Jake Kerridge
5:30 CLOSE

The organisers reserve the right to modify the programme and timings.

More details of the 2020 Conference

We can now confirm the following speakers will also be appearing at this year’s conference (in addition to those previously announced):

Kate Ellis – author of the best-selling Wesley Peterson series of mysteries

Moira Redmond – commentator on, amongst other things, Clothes in Books

Len Tyler – CWA Dagger winning author

Jake Kerridge – crime fiction critic for the Daily Telegraph

Christine Poulson – author of the Cassandra James and Katie Flanagan mystery series

Jim Noy – author of The Invisible Event blog on (frequently) impossible crime fiction

Daniel Curtis – author of The Reader is Warned blog

Kate Jackson – compiler of the The Pocket Detective puzzles published by The British Library

Steve Barge – the moving force behind the recent republication of Brian Flynn’s novels

The budding Hercule Poirots amongst you may deduce that Steve Barge will be talking on Brian Flynn – one of the topics already announced – but what of the other speakers? What will be their subjects? With less than 24 hours left before the Early Bird discount expires you can ensure you find out by booking for the conference today.

Topics for the 2020 Conference

We can now reveal some (but not all – we want to keep some surprises up our sleeve) of the topics that are going to be covered in this year’s conference.

There will be sessions on classic authors such as Ngaio Marsh and Gladys Mitchell.

And in a salute to our cousins across the Atlantic who will be celebrating their Independence on the day of the conference, there will be a focus on an American “Crime Queen” – the pseudonymous Ellery Queen.

We are also delighted to include a session on a hitherto overlooked author whose works are only now returning into print after a hiatus that, I’m sure our speakers will argue, has been too long: Brian Flynn.

These are just a taste of the goodies we have in store for you and we promise more treats to be revealed shortly.

The only way to be sure not to miss out is to book your place – and there are only a few days left before the Early Bird Discount period expires – so the time to act is now.

2020 Programme nearly finalised

The programme for this year’s conference is nearly finalised. We are just working on the details for the last couple of slots (who will appear with whom and take what aspects of the topic for discussion) before we go live with the planned programme.

I can’t resist mentioning though that we have sessions featuring Tony Medawar, Martin Edwards, Alison Joseph and our own John Curran (who has just been nominated for an Edgar for his book The Hooded Gunman – available at all good bookshops!). We are also thrilled to welcome a speaker new to our conferences but, we are sure, familiar to those of us who discuss Golden Age Detective Fiction online, Curtis Evans.

Topics for this year include Ellery Queen, S. S. Van Dine and Gladys Mitchell.

We will be announcing more speakers and topics very soon.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already booked your tickets, don’t miss out on the Early Bird Discount which applies for only a short while longer and saves you £5 on the ticket price.